I often wonder how and why people judge photography, what constitutes a “good” photo versus a “bad” photo? What gives anyone or me the right to express his or her opinion on anyone’s photography?
I think this can be attributed to a couple of things, one Photography is a visual art form both in the way it’s created, and the way it’s appreciated. By its very nature it is something we do for others to look at and by default that means it will leave an impression on its viewers. Two, most people want to know what others think of their efforts. This feedback is vital to grow as an artist and become better photographers.
So what is constructive criticism, or at least was is most beneficial to developing the art of photography? When I was instructing Wedding Photography at Sheridan College, I was asked to critique and grade students work, this was not an easy task, as several things need to be considered; the experience of the photographer, equipment being used, stylistic influences, ability to execute the assignment, and technical photographic execution.
Most feedback is valuable, however, which is the most important? I’ve given this matter a lot of thought over the years and I’d like to share with you some background on how I approach taking a photograph, it’s my hope that this will give you a better idea on what kind of feedback is important to help you become the photographer you want to be, and what is well not so important. Essentially, I hope I help you understand the difference between what skills can only be developed, and others can be learned.
Lets reflect on a few things first…
Why did you press the button?
Photographers have the ability to freeze time, preserve emotion and bring those who are far away or well not with us any more back at least in spirit. I believe that is true because emotion is captured in photography and emotion, brings on other emotions. I believe that regardless of your subject the opportunity exists for all photographers to preserve that emotion in their images and that is really what in my humble opinion that is our job as photographers
What emotion did you see or anticipate as you made the decision to release the shutter? How did you feel as the scene developed before you, what quality of light were you waiting so long for; how did you feel at that moment?
More importantly how do you want your audience to feel when you show that masterful shot, that crafted image?
If we’re honest with ourselves as photographers this is the feedback we typically fear the most. Because these are the skills we cannot learn, we can only develop this skill and some of us are more gifted at it than others.
Now the technical stuff is important but I think it’s less important than the emotional components and anyone can learn exposure, appropriate DOF, and shutter speed etc. A perfect execution of an emotionless subject matter is simply forgettable – It’s emotion that makes images powerful – period.
So what’s the compelling message, simply the next time you have the honour of offering a critique an image tell the artist how it made you feel. Only the photographer will know how close they came to evoking the feelings from the viewer and that is ultimately the most valuable critique you could offer. It teaches the photographer how to see, how to develop not learn the art of seeing.
Before I conclude a few words of advice, focus yourself before you focus the camera; I grew up shooting film and when film was the medium there was a sense of scarcity when shooting, each release of the shutter cost about $.50 cents; in the digital world of abundance today it costs nothing to press the button. I suggest changing your photographic paradigm from abundance to sufficiency. Sufficiency not an amount it’s an experience, a context you the photographer working as an artist generates, a declaration, knowing that there is enough, and we have done enough.
I hope this brings a new perspective on your approach whether you agree or not I hope it helps… now get out there and start seeing first.